Is Omeruo's Super Eagles career on its last legs?
Current longest serving Super Eagles centre defender Kenneth Omeruo is not regretting staying back to help Leganes fight promotion back to the Spanish La Liga following relegation last season - according to reports from local media. The fear at the time was that playing in La Liga 2 would cost him a place in the national team. Although he has lost his place, this was in no way due to staying back at Leganes. The man whose place he took came back with vengeance: Leon Balogun rediscovered his form after playing second fiddle to Omeruo in the 2019 Afcon in Egypt. A spell in the English Championship with Wigan after the Afcon saw a rejuvenated Balogun who only rose from strength to strength after that to convincingly reclaim his Super Eagles starting 11 status. With Rohr also easing Semi Ajayi – having been dropped from the 2019 Afcon squad – into the centre defence role in games against Lesotho and Benin late last year, chances for Omeruo started diminishing.
And if the rumours of new dual nationality players signing up for the Super Eagles in coming months are anything to go by, Omeruo’s chances are set to shrink even further. But the good news is that Omeruo will be expected to be in the shortlist of Super Eagles defenders if he plays regularly for Leganes. However, whether he would make the cut into any final list is debatable. For all his admirable years of service to the Super Eagles, Omeruo struggles to exhibit composure, timing, grace, suave and polish expected of a fully refined centre defender. In 2013, a younger Omeruo demonstrated that he was mastering the art of a top quality defender. Over the years though, he does not seem to have perfected that mastery. Overall, he is a decent and hard worker who can be trusted to put in a decent shift when called upon.
If other centre defensive options show the sort of application missing from Omeruo’s game, it is hard to see how he would displace them. Yes, he exhibits the attributes of a good centre back in the way of his tackling, interception, marking and clearance manoeuvres. But his timing and technique have the tendency of being finesse-deficient. For me - apart from his 2013 Afcon heroics - Omeruo's high points for Nigeria were at the top end of the pitch.
These are his goals against Germany (in Under-17) and against Guinea in the Afcon last year. His assists to Musa’s goal against Iceland in the 2018 World Cup and Ighalo’s goal against Cameroon in last year’s Afcon will all be evergreen. But it is in the core defensive duties of a centre back that Omeruo will need to prove himself all over again in 2021 and beyond if he is to remain relevant to the Super Eagles. His relevance to the national team has always been like that of a cat with 9 lives. The question is, how many of them has he got left?
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